Žižek Blog: Below, a piece on Ukraine, and the crises we face.

When, in a recent conversation with Piers Morgan, I suggested that the West should give Ukraine nuclear arms, I was (as expected) attacked from all sides, especially from the Left peaceniks and sympathizers of Russia, as a dangerous madman – here is the title of a report on me in a Slovene pro-Russian blog: “A crazy Nero of our time: the infantile philosopher-king Slavoj Žižek calls upon the West to give nuclear arms to Ukrainians!”[i] The idea is that, like Nero who sang when Rome was burning, I will sing my philosophy while the world around me will be burning…

So let me try to clarify my position. First, I owe a sincere apology to my Arab friends who were shocked by my claim that today “Russian are worse than Arabs”: what I meant was that, since Arab Muslims are regularly perceived as religious fundamentalists, one should sadly admit that the Russian nationalist fanatics are today on many points worse than Muslim fundamentalists - this and nothing more. Second, with my nuclear arms remark I just wanted to remind the public that, when the Soviet Union formally disintegrated, Russia got all nuclear arms on the condition that it irrevocably recognizes the borders between the new sovereign states. So, formally, if Russia (obviously) violated this condition, does Ukraine not have the right to get nuclear arms?

As for the fear that the crazy Ukrainians will sooner or later use nuclear weapons, one should remember that this fear is based on the portrait of the Ukrainian leadership as a bunch of militaristic neo-Nazis who should not be trusted – in the last two years, was Russia not the one continuously threatening, if it’s sovereignty is attacked, to use nuclear weapons? There were dozens of such statements from Russia’s top representatives as well as from Russian official media… Margarita Simonyan, editor of Russia Today, recently said it was "more probable" the Russian president would turn to his nuclear arsenal than admit defeat:

“Either we lose in Ukraine, or the Third World War starts. I think World War Three is more realistic, knowing us, knowing our leader. This is to my horror on one hand. But on the other hand, it is what it is. We will go to heaven, while they will simply croak... We're all going to die someday.”[ii]

Who in the West talks like that? Furthermore, does recent history not prove that if a country has nuclear weapons, its security is strengthened? This is why North Korea survives, this is why there is no war between India and Pakistan (both have nuclear weapons). My critics also dispute the claim that Putin is a fundamentalist religious fanatic – no, they claim, he just rationally pursues the interests of Russia by reacting to the NATO threat… First, it is the countries bordering Russia that want to join NATO because they are afraid of Russian invasion. Recently, I’ve spoken with some of my Lithuanian friends who told me that the daily life there is full of anxieties: people are even afraid to invest in new apartments and houses, not sure about what will happen if Russia attacks them.

More importantly, I think this reproach misses my point: I am not talking about Putin’s personal beliefs, I am just describing the public discourse that is predominant in the Russian media where the Russian “defense” is regularly presented as the defense of Christianity against the anti-Christian neo-Nazi liberal West – in short, as a religious of Christianity against the reign of Satan. To say that this is just rhetoric and that the reality is Russia’s self-defense is all too short: words are never just words, they matter, they have material implications even if they are not “meant seriously” – remember Hitler who was obviously lying in his statements, but these lies nonetheless legitimized millions of deaths. Even when the statements of Russian politicians are not directly fundamentalist, they all too often approach open irrationality – suffice it to recall how, in a series of comments in late December 2023, Putin appeared to blame Poland for the outbreak of the Second World War. So it’s not the big two (Germany and Soviet Union) who attacked Poland, Poland itself provoked the attack![iii]

This brings us to my basic insight: it is not just a question of helping Ukraine to survive. The true problem is that, although we all know about the looming crises, we in the developed West still do not act accordingly.  Our situation is the one described by Cixin Liu in his sci-fi masterpiece The Three-Body Problem[iv]: a scientist is drawn into a Virtual-Reality game “Three Body” in which players find themselves on an alien planet Trisolaris whose three suns rise and set at strange and unpredictable intervals: sometimes too far away and horribly cold, sometimes far too close and destructively hot, and sometimes not seen for long periods of time. The players can somehow dehydrate themselves and the rest of the population to weather the worst seasons, but life is a constant struggle against apparently unpredictable elements, so that although players try to find ways to build a civilization and attempt to predict the strange cycles of heat and cold, they are condemned to destruction...

Do the latest disturbances in our environment not demonstrate that our Earth itself is gradually turning into Trisolaris? Devastating hurricanes, droughts and floods, not to mention global warming, do they all not indicate that we are witnessing something the only appropriate name for which is “the end of Nature”? (“Nature” is to be understood here in the traditional sense of a regular rhythm of seasons, the reliable background of human history, something on which we can count that it will always be there.) Now that God or Tradition can no longer play the role of the highest Limit, Nature takes over this role. But what kind of nature will this be? Even when we imagine global warming, we are aware that we are approaching a new world in which “England” will designate a barren dry country, while “Death Valley” will designate a big lake in California. However, we still picture it as a new stability, with “regular and repeatable weather patterns”:

“Once humanity reaches the limit of carbon output, Earth's climate stabilizes at a new, higher average temperature. This higher temperature is overall bad for humans, because it still leads to higher sea levels and more extreme weather events. But at least it's stable: The Anthropocene looks like previous climate ages, only warmer, and it will still have.”[v]

However, recent researches find it more probable that “Earth's climate leads to chaos. True, mathematical chaos. In a chaotic system, there is no equilibrium and no repeatable patterns. A chaotic climate would have seasons that change wildly from decade to decade (or even year to year). Some years would experience sudden flashes of extreme weather, while others would be completely quiet. Even the average Earth temperature may fluctuate wildly, swinging from cooler to hotter periods in relatively short periods of time. It would become utterly impossible to determine in what direction Earth's climate is headed.“[vi] Such an outcome is not only catastrophic for our survival, it also runs against our (human) most basic notion of nature, that of repeatable pattern of seasons.

Although our planet has only one sun around which it circulates, our predicament could be called “a six-crises problem”:  ecological crisis, economic imbalances, wars, chaotic migrations, the threat of AI, disintegration of society. Although the underlying cause of these crises is the dynamic of global capitalism, the interaction of crises leads to chaos which is no less unpredictable than the situation on Trisolaris. Do these crises strengthen each other or does their interaction offer some hope – say, a hope that the ecological crisis will compel us to move beyond capitalism and war to a social order of global solidarity? Although Cixin Liu imagines wonderful and/or terrifying new scientific and technological inventions, he is fully aware that the basic dimension of our crises is social, the coexistence of different civilizations as well as the antagonisms within each civilization. So the solution will also have to be social (a new social organization of our societies), not just technological.

The first thing to do today is therefore to act accordingly to our predicament: to prepare for the forthcoming emergency state(s). The paradox is that acting like they will happen in all their dimensions (from ecological catastrophes to wars and digital breakdowns) is the only way to have a chance to prevent them really to happen. The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently said: “I know it sounds devastating, especially to people of the younger generation, but we have to mentally get used to the arrival of a new era. The prewar era.”[vii] He is right, although not unconditionally - the situation is still open, and what we should say is, to be more precise: “If a new world war will happen, it will be clear that it has begun back in 2022, and that its deployment was necessary.” Why this strange paradox of retroactivity?

Our predicament confronts us with the deadlock of the contemporary “society of choice.” We pride ourselves for living in a society in which we freely decide about things which matter. However, we find ourselves constantly in the position of having to decide about matters that will fundamentally affect our lives, but without a proper foundation in knowledge. Such a situation is properly frustrating: although we know that it all depends on us, we cannot ever predict the consequences of our acts – we are not impotent, but, quite on the contrary, omnipotent, without being able to determine the scope of our powers. While we cannot gain full mastery over our bio-sphere, it is unfortunately in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process.


[i] Nori Neron našega časa: Infantilni kralj-filozof Slavoj Žižek poziva zahod, da naj Ukrajincem izroči jedrsko orožje! | Insajder.com - Objektivno. Odkrito. Točno.

[ii] Putin would prefer nuclear strike to defeat , says Russian TV boss (yahoo.com).

[iii] See Putin Blames Poland for World War II - The Atlantic.

[iv] See Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem, London: Head of Zeus 2015. Now there are two TV series based on the novel available: a Netflix one and a Chinese one.

[v] Physicists predict Earth will become a chaotic world, with dire consequences (msn.com).

[vi] Op.cit.

[vii] Europe must get ready for looming war, Donald Tusk warns | Poland | The Guardian.